tv Tavis Smiley WHUT October 27, 2011 8:30am-9:00am EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with law professor anita hill. this marks the anniversary of the clarence thomas hearings. she is out with a new book called "reimagining equality." we are glad you can join us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with b tetdar. day better. >> nationwide insurance
supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one co nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: and the cahill is a professor for social policy, law, and women's studies at brandeis. she was employed at the eeoc. that led to her testimony on the supreme court confirmation hearings of clarence thomas 20 years ago.
her newest book is called "reimagining equality, stories of gender, race, and finding home." good to have you back on this program. we were talking before you came on the air. with the advent of the internet and 24 hour cable news, stuff never seems to rest. it never seems to go away. it doesn't ever seen as long as it has been, at least for me, because there is always a passing reference or something that harkens back to whatever the historic moment is. i say all that to ask whether it seems like 20 years for you. >> sometimes it seems like 20 years. when you are living in every day, of course, you live those 20 years, but sometimes it seems like yesterday. i think it is the media coverage of it in combination with -- i hear from people w say, "i remember where " was
when thoseea hrings occurred, and i remember how i felt." i think that is what brings it back to us and makes us think it is not that long ago. tavis: i think i asked you this question at the 10-year mark. i will ask you again in case the answer has changed. that is whether or not it is worth it. if you had to do this over again, would you? >> the reason i did it was because the supreme court was at stake, and the rights of individuals throughout the country were at stake. that has not changed. the integrity of the court is why i was there. it still remains critical to all of us. the other thing i would say is in the past couple of weeks i have had a chance to see and hear from women at a couple of conferences, one at georgetown law center and one at hunter college, and even more recently in columbia, south carolina, and visit with women who talked about what the hearings have
meant to them and how it changed their lives. when you take all of that into account, the reason i was there to start with as well as the positive impact it has had, the answer is no. i would not change a thing. tavis: in part, the impetus for the book are the 25,000 letters and counting you have received from women all over the world about those testimonies and hearings. i want to ask you a question not about clarence thomas the man, but since you have taught law for a number of years, about clarence thomas the justice. that is to say, what has his impact and on the court as you see it? >> let me say one thing. you said 25,000 letters from women. i have received letters from women and men. tavis: she got me on a technicality. >> it is significant because it was significant for men and women, and equality is
significant for all of us. about clarence thomas as a justice, a lot of people comment on his jurisprudence. you can read articles. really, i do not study tour -- clarence thomas as a justice. many people find he is the architect of an extremely conservative jurisprudence that is finding support and resonance among and a lot of political conservatives, and that in fact he may be a leader in that sense. tavis: let me ask you this question another way, because you have been a law professor so many years. what you think of the court and its shift or swing one way or another over the 20 years since you offer your testimony? you said earlier you went to give your testimony because the supreme court was at stake. what the make of the way the court has swung or not over these 20 years? >> i think there have been some good years and good decisions.
i think sandra day o'connor's opinion in the michigan affirmative action cases was a significant mark. and a positive mark in the court's history. the shift here i think is clearly toward more conservative opinions, or cutting back on rights, cutting back procedurally in terms of how people can go forward and bring their claims. the walmart case this summer was an example of that, the inability of lawyers to bring class action cases, a huge class action cases in some cases, that are representative of issues women will face in the workplace. that was a setback, not that those class actions will not go forward and cases will not go forward. but i think these are all indicators that we are pushing back on rights that all of us who have been lawyers and
acticing lawyers and teaching lawyers believed were secure. i am not encouraged by that. tavis: speaking of gender equality of the last 20 years, a couple of women have made it to the supreme court during the time since your testimony at the thomas hearings. what you make of the increase in gender balance on the supreme court? >> i am excited about that. three women on the supreme court? we represent now an incoming class of law school -- about 50% are women. it has been steady for the past 10 years or so. we are well represented in the bar. we have a ways to go in terms of some of the leadership roles in law positions, in law firms for example. but our representation on the supreme court is important. it is important symbolically,
but also important in terms of the perspective and wisdom of those women bring to the court. tavis: chief justice john roberts is pretty young, and in pretty good health as far as we can tell. but if i have a dime for every person who said, "i never thought i would see a black president in my lifetime"-- how long do you think it will be until we see a woman as chief justice? >> it has already been done in canada. i think it is not something we can foresee right now, but certainly we have three women on the court nowhoel are wl qualified to be chief justice. and anyone who will be going through this process, especially women who will go to that process, get to the position where they can be on the court -- a suspect anyone who can succeed at that level could move on to be chief justice.
tavis: it may have been when you contacted the police -- i do not know how the story got public. we all know, thanks to somebody, that clarence thomas's second wife left you a voicemail asking you to apologize to her d.husban what did you make of that phone call when you received it? and do you have anything for which to apologize to clarence thomas? >> absolutely not, to answer your last question. there is no call for an apology. i told the truth during my testimony. it was an important truth to be told during those proceedings. there will not be an apology. when i received the call, of course, i did not believe it was her. i thought it was a crank call. just to finally find out what was going on -- it was a voice mail left on the workplace voice mail. i wanted to know who it was. i did turn it over to campus police.
tavis: did you feel intimidated or scared? >> i felt it was an attempt to intimidate. i did not feel intimidated. i guess there was part of me that felt annoyed, and that i did not want to walk into my office and know that any day this was good to be happening again. it was almost a sense that i decided, "let's have it investigated, all find out what is going on, and i will figure out the best response." you know what happened. the story did get out. what i did find out after that was that the issue of those hearings continued to resonate with women. that was about a year ago. so what i said when i got all those messages that responded to her phone call, i said let's take this hearing back.
let's don't let it be a story about a voicemail message about a rigid voice message from ms. thomas. let us move the issue. let us use some of the passion in his responses to the voice mail and move forward with issues of sexual harassment and other gender issues the here and raised. tavis: will you ever get tired of answering these questions, or have you accepted the fact that for as long as you live the will be questions to you about a man named clarence thomas? >> there will be those questions. i tell people it was an example in my life, a pivotal event in my life that shaped the way i think about a lot of things, but it was one event, not who i am. tavis: i think the first question i want to ask about the book "reimagining equality" is how does re-imagine equality --
especially for women -- how is it different from the way you thought of these issues 20 years ago? >> i think we are always in the process of free imagining equality. 20 years ago, we thought if we could just get into the workplace, if we could just get that door open and walk through, we would have enough change to say we have equality. as a matter of fact, when you look at issues like sexual harassment, we know it is not enough just to get in the door. so how are we going to define in is not enough? what more do we need to do? and that is one specific way that it differs today from what i thought 20 years ago. i thought 20 years ago, just open the doors and we will go in, and we will show our value and worth, and that will be it. that was not enough.
tavis: is there something beyond harassment, something beyond patriarchy, that makes just getting in the door not enough? >> absolutely. one of the things we have not paid enough attention to the is the way that racism and sexism really are built into the culture of work places. the culture of work place, for example, for wom, that is not a family friendly. we know women share much of the economic responsibility for supporting their family. they are in the workplace. but we also know women share more child care responsibility for their family. many work places do not accommodate that at all. it is not enough to get in the door. we have to have work places where the culture allows us to take care of all of our responsibility. tavis: to what extent es the role of race still impact
equality in america? i want to raise this because it was the line, as you recall, at the hearings. clarence thomas said "this is a high-tech lynching of a black man." this is a man who is about to be on the supreme court. he is playing the race card, if one might put it that way. to what extent does race still hold us back from imagine equality as we should? >> let us talk about some of the issues in the book. that is exactly what happened about six years ago. the banks and lending institutions across the country began to literally flood the market with some prime loans and predatory lending -- subprime loans and predatory lending practices, targeted toward citizens of color, specifically latinos and african-americans. eventually, so were single women
borrowing money on their own. it is to the extent that we can fast-forward six years later. we know that targeting of communities of color has led to entire neighborhoods being boarded up, entire neighborhoods being left insecure. crime has been increasing in those places. we know people have been left homeless. people have been foreclosed on in large homes, perhaps that they have had through generations. even those that have only had for a few years. that crisis occurred because banks really went into practices that were racist, in the cases -- in many cases, in some cases based on a history of sexism and racism.
tavis: something that most interested me about the text -- i could not wait to get into it. i wanted to know how you made the link between equality and finding home. i think you did a masterful job of doing that. what does equality have to do with finding home? >> i mean finding the place that is safe and secure, where you can shake your life and your future, and take all the opportunities this country has to offer -- have access to those opportunities. i use my family stories in this book, because when my grandparents -- my great- grandmother was a slave who gave birth to my grandfather, henry elliott, who was going a slave in 1864. when the they did become free, one thing they determine it was that if they could just get back home, that homeplace, the could
begin to secure economic independence and political and social independence for themselves and their children. that was almost an agreement they had with american society. if they could find a home place -- for them, it was a farm. my grandmother and grandfather homesteaded 80 acres. if they could do that, that would be the beginning of how they would define equality. i think that is a value and a message that has continued through families, african american families in particular. often, since that time -- it now, with the slickest catastrophe in the housing market, we have lost that. not only are we being set back economically, but we are set back socially as well, as entire neighborhoods are lost, have been ravaged. bankers and banks have gotten
rich. as far as i know, no one has been prosecuted for what they have done. but the link i found in my own family to home and how we imagined equality is where we start with the story. tavis: you referenced a moment ago the economic touch point and social touch point of the fight for equality in this country. let me raise a political point. you get into some of that in the text. to what extent do the politics in washington especially, but states across the country, keep many americans from imaginings equality? >> the politics keep us from dealing with some very important issues, like housing. this is an issue for all of america. it has its roots in racism and sexism. that is what i show in "reimagining equality."
but it is a problem for the entirewe cannot continue to thit if we isolate racial communities and push women to decide that we will all be ok. america is in a crisis now, and the politics of today keep us from dealing realistically with this crisis. but you know what? we don't have to rely on politicians. this is an issue that is so important and so critical. the book is a call for action. the call for action -- i start with the white house, and a recommendation that the white house council on women and girls take a look at this issue, but it does not have to begin there. it can begin in our own communities, with our places of worship and our business places. everyone has an interest in this. tavis: this is a loaded question, because the book
covers so many themes -- since you reference the white house, what is your sense of how the president is doing on helping us equality? there was a lot expected of him. >> i believe the president right now is in the mode of dealing with specific policies that relate to many of the issues i am talking about. we have a new policy now on education and for giving student loans. that will be important. we have reinvigorated policy on making homes affordable. that is important. what i am suggesting is more comprehensive than that. i do not have a road map in this book, but what i do have is ideas for how we can begin to analyze policy comprehensively to address the issues we face. the president is dealing with existing policies, and i think
he is trying to make them work. but in order to really reimagine equality, we have to do with things comprehensively and more broadly than i have seen. tavis: what the these protests in cities across the country, these occupy protests -- what role did you imagine them being able to play it with regard to advancing equality around the country? at the heart of what they are saying is advancing equality. >> economic inequality is clearly the issue they are making us mindful of, i think in a very effective way -- the whole idea about the 99% of us that are not getting the benefit of our laws and policies. that is important. i also know that not all 99% of us are going to care about on wall street or in our cities. what can we do, the rest of us that are not going to go out and
camp, or what can we do in addition to that? how can we deal with specific issues of inequality? i will also say this. we want to think about the relationship between what the protesters on occupy wall street are talking about. we think about the practices of the banks during the house and the baucus, let us call it. what happened is that housing crisis, education crisis, medical crisis -- costs were escalating. because income was staying flat and prices were going up on everything, people started to use their homes. people say they were using them as piggy banks. they were borrowing, in some instances, on their homes. but how far was this american dream? if you owned a home, you would have part of that dream and be part of america's promise.
all of those things were happening, but income was not increasing. if we start to deal with the fact that, for example, women still only make 80 cents on the dollar that men make, if we start to do with other inequalities in income and access to opportunities, he will begin to get at some of the issues they are raising. specifically, what i want to talk about is what we are going to do with issues related to the home. tavis: you referenced as three times in my conversation, the greedy bankers. that is my phrase, not yours. the greedy banksters, some call them. you teach law. you know how this works. not a single one of them has gone to jail. but they have arrested protesters in cities across the country. you can arrest protesters, but not one banker has gone to jail.
what do you make of the fact that the justice department has not done anything? this is a legal question. if i had done that, i would be in jail now. >> there are investigations now, i understand, by state attorneys general in delaware and new york. i do not know what the justice department is doing. there may be an investigation there, but it is a long time coming, and it cannot come quickly enough. when you read "reimagining equality," there are practices were lenders would say, when they were going out to target elderly women, that there were "going grammy hunting -- granny hunting." they would sell certain people did not deserve a good credit. it was built into the practices. lenders have an incentive to sell toxic instruments in communities of color and throughout society. that, in many people's
estimation, is criminal. whether or not the justice department and the states of new york and delaware will find them criminal remains to be seen. tavis: the book is called "reimagining equality," something the justice department ought to do. that is my commentary, not professor hill's. >> we all should. tavis: an honor as always to have you on this program. >> it is a pleasure to be here. tavis: see you back here next time. thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with basketball legend and former
laker great jerry west on his new memoir. that is next time. see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is literacyfaln tavis in working l and move obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.